Ongoing scientific research into the "beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline" has shown that healthy people with mild memory deficits of events in their past (known as episodic memory) had improved memory recall after six months of treatment with a supplement rich in DHA from fish oil.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) plays a crucial role in neural function. Decreases in blood plasma levels of DHA are associated with cognitive decline in healthy elderly adults and in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Higher DHA intake is inversely correlated with relative risk of Alzheimer's disease (i.e. the higher your intake of DHA, the lower your relative risk of Alzheimer's).
Fish oil supplements are beneficial to cognitive health
The Memory Improvement With Docosahexaenoic Acid Study (MIDAS) study was conducted over 6 months and involved 485 healthy elderly people (over the age of 55) who complained of memory problems. A group was given fish oil supplementation with 900 mg per day of DHA, and another was a placebo controlled group. Findings revealed that those taking fish oil supplements showed significant improvements in memory test scores compared to those who took a placebo.
Conclusions published since the trials have attributed Omega-3 fatty acid DHA to being of particular benefit to those with existing memory problems - this is especially so when an individual is coping with physical or mental stress. Several additional studies have also looked at DHA supplements and their effect on memory with very similar positive results.
DHA is thought to be responsible for the positive effects in these findings, it is believed the nutrient helps nerve cells communicate with each other. Experts believe supplements rich in DHA from fish oils or other marine sources slow or prevent mental decline as it is found in reduced amounts in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Supplementation with DHA could improve learning and memory function
Award-winning dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton is an independent public health nutritionist who has reviewed the latest findings, she said:
"Studies have variously shown that fish oils lead to better performance in working and verbal memory indicating the potential to delay the onset of cognitive decline and that supplementation with DHA could improve learning and memory function. We know that people with the greatest cognitive decline have the least amount of omega-3 in their diet."
Fish oils are the best source of DHA (Omega-3 fatty acids)
The best dietary source of Omega-3 fatty acids is oily fish because the human body cannot produce Omega-3 fatty acids. It can be found in oily fish such as mackerel and sardines, while white fish such as cod, haddock and plaice is also a healthy food it contains lower levels of essential fatty acids.
Current nutritional guidelines recommend Britons eat one portion of fish per week, or 140g, however figures reveal that only one in three of us actually do so, eating on average around 90g only per week. Fish oils can also be consumed via way of a supplement, this is an easy and convenient way to boost intake without overhauling your diet.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.